Monday, January 25, 2010

Observing a Bank Teller at Work

How much is 6 pieces of RM100 notes?

Quick! answer that question without using a calculator!

That's easy, right? OK, let's try another one:

How much is 12 pieces of RM50 notes?

Again, try to resist the temptation to reach out for that forsaken calculator. I know most of you would automatically grab the calculator, almost sub-consciously. It is strange, but most people are becoming increasingly lazy to use their brains. Who needs brains; all you need are batteries?

Today I made a trip to the bank to pay up my insurance premiums. Well, actually I was paying for Mia's and mine. Last night, Mia left the 12 pieces of RM50 notes on my desk together with the premium due reminders for both our insurance policies. She had to pay RM576.30, whereas I had to pay RM590.70.

This afternoon I went to the bank which is located on the ground floor of the building wherein my office is located. After waiting for a while before my number was called, I walked up to the teller and gave the premium-due reminders. I told her that I'd like to pay for those. Automatically, she reached for the calculator to key in the amounts, and then announced to me the total amount due. I gave her 6 pieces of RM100 notes from my wallet, plus the 12 pieces of RM50 notes which Mia gave to me last night.

I watched the teller at work, which was quite amusing at first, but eventually becoming quite annoying.

She counted the RM100 notes first. I saw her lips counted, and heard whispering sounds of the numbers—one, two, three... six. Then she counted again the second time, just to make sure that there were indeed 6 pieces of RM100 notes. And then she counted again a third time before finally convincing herself that there were 6 pieces of RM100 notes. After she's absolutely sure that she had 6 pieces of RM100 notes in her hands, she wrote it down on a piece of paper, i.e. RM100 x 6. And then she proceeded to key in the figures into her calculator—the kind which would print out the figures on the tiny paper so that she could cross-check later. I thought it would never come, but at last she was able to really be sure that she received RM600 worth of RM100 notes from me!

Next, she continued to deal with the RM50 notes. She counted with her hands, and again I could hear the whispering sounds—one, two, three... twelve. And of course the second and third counts respectively. Yes, 12 pieces of RM50, they're all there. So again she wrote it down, i.e. RM50 x 12, before proceeding to key in the figures into the calculator.

Finally, she's able to arrive at the grand total: RM1,200, voila! And then, once again reaching out for the calculator to do a bit of calculation, she was able to determine how much change to give back to me.

Talk about paranoia!


Claire said...

I think cashiers, bank-tellers, etc are trained to double/ triple check their calculations especially when handling $$. It's probably part of the SOP.

Cornelius said...


I'm inclined think you are correct. The apparently never-ending double- and triple-checkings are probably designed to minimise mistakes. I'm not from the banking industry, so I can't say anything about why the banks would go to that extent. But maybe there were just too many mistakes in the past. Hence this kind of paranoia checkings. That's one side of the story.

What's the probability of mis-counting 6 pieces of notes? Then what's the probability of mis-counting 6 pieces of notes the second time? Is there any benefit in the third count? Or is it done merely to obey habitual actions? I just wonder.

CK said...

we can say it's paranoia but if a short of RM100 is 5% of a salary of RM2000/mth, let them take their time.

Cornelius said...


Oh yes, of course; if they have to go through paranoid counting to get their job done, then what more can I say. That's how it's got to be done I guess. It may annoy me for sure, but I don't set the rules in the banks. I was merely observing the teller at work and sharing it here.